Although most Americans are aware of our country's troubled history regarding Indigenous cultures, few know the full extent to which Indigenous people have been and continue to be oppressed and overlooked. Chef Sean Sherman is working to bring awareness to these issues with his newly opened Minneapolis restaurant Owamni By the Sioux Chef, which features solely Indigenous cuisine.
Sean Sherman's Efforts to Build Awareness
Sean Sherman, or Oglala Lakota, grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This talented chef has been striving to bring visibility to indigenous foodways in every way possible, from his business The Sioux Chef to his restaurant Owamni. Sherman is an expert on Native American food systems, history, and culture, a knowledge that informs his business and restaurant.
Through The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman works as a caterer and food educator to the Minneapolis area, and he also helped design the Tatanka Truck food truck, which serves indigenous dishes of the Dakota and Minnesota territories.
Sherman has been recognized for his work with a number of awards, including the 2018 James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook. His Native American recipes have also been featured in the New York Times.
The Sioux Chef also founded the nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), along with running the first Indigenous Food Lab, which works to combat the damage of European colonialism by creating access to Indigenous foods.
As Sherman explains, "The bigger goal is to eventually grow the Indigenous Food Lab so we can help train, educate, and support Indigenous kitchens all over the United States."
Bring Back a Sacred Site
His new restaurant Owamni, which he owns with his partner Dana Thompson, is just one of many avenues of awareness. Its name comes from the Dakhóta word Owámniyomni, which means whirlpool or turbulent waters, and is the Indigenous name for the cascading waterfalls on the Mississippi River. Before colonialism took its toll, Indigenous people considered the land that is now Minneapolis to be a sacred site of peace and well-being because of these powerful falls.
Sean and Dana intentionally chose this area in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, or the Twin Cities, to bring back the culture and meaning to this sacred site. The restaurant is just one element of the Water Works park project, which aims to bring visibility to Native American history and culture.
"For Indigenous people who went through intense assimilation, we lost a lot of our food culture. But we're at a point now where we can reclaim it and evolve it for the next generation. To be able to share culture through food will be really healing," says Sherman.
Sean Sherman of The Sioux Chef's restaurant will serve exclusively Native American cuisine, featuring indigenous ingredients like wild rice, and avoiding all ingredients that didn't exist in the area originally, from wheat flour to chicken to cane sugar. As for the drinks menu, the restaurant only serves beer and wine from BIPOC and female-owned companies. Along with this, they offer an extensive list of mocktails made with indigenous ingredients.
The midwest restaurant will have lunch and dinner options, serving both dine-in and takeout. During the winter months, they'll have a tasting dinner menu based on the phases of the moon.
"We believe that there should be Indigenous restaurants everywhere because no matter where, we're on Indigenous land," Sherman says. Owamni will "help showcase further how Indigenous food fits into the American scene," he says. "You can't tell the story of American food while dismissing the Indigenous history of it all."
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